I went to Nashville last week, and I have a thought I want to share. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. It’s a city full of artists, dreamers, and hopefuls. Being surrounded by that was wonderful.
I was there for a national writer’s conference, to improve my craft and make connections for my own dream of having the things I write published for people to read and enjoy and hopefully love. And while I was surrounded by other writers—published and not, and all were incredibly inspiring and encouraging—they aren’t the subject of my above-mentioned thought.
It was the musicians.
Nashville is music. That’s what makes Nashville special and unique. If there’s another town like that, someone tell me and I’ll visit there, too.
On any given day, live music can be found at dozens of places around the city. Midday, afternoon, evening—there’s always someone playing. Every evening we went to see someone different. No musician was the same—male/female, young/old, country/rock/folk, alone/with a band. But they all had one thing in common.
They love what they’re doing. They’re passionate. They’re trying their level best to break into one of the most competitive businesses in the world, and I’m positive for most of them it’s not to be rich and famous and known. It’s to share their passion and maybe, just maybe get to a point where they can support themselves completely with that passion.
One night we saw a guy who played for five people sitting in the bar. Another night there were maybe fifteen people, but only a few were actively paying attention or listening. And a third night we went to this place called The Listening Room, where everyone in the room was enraptured by each song played, and all attention was on the stage. And you know what? The musicians in all three scenarios played the same. They played with passion and heart and emotion regardless of who was listening. It was beautiful and inspiring, and if I’m honest at times hard to watch. In the first two scenarios I wanted to grab people off the street and poke the other people in the bar and say, “Listen to this guy! Look, see how good he is? Do you hear this song, and how beautiful the lyrics are? Listen and give him your attention and give him a few bucks, because he’s out here and trying and it’s awesome.”
As a writer who is trying to get my work out there for people to read, I felt a connection to these musicians. But in a way, what they’re doing is harder. I can write something and e-mail it to a friend, or an editor, and be completely oblivious the moment they begin reading it. I don’t have to watch their face as they read, and count the number of times they look up and around like they got bored and wish they were reading something else. Or see a frown on their face because something I write doesn’t make sense, or didn’t come across the way I’d intended. I don’t have to sit there on the edge of my seat, looking at their expression the minute they finish, hoping to see a smile or a look of wonder or awe. (I could, of course, but I’d never do this to myself. I prefer to be far, far away when someone reads my stuff for the first time.)
For a musician to get their art out there, they have to play it for people. Can they record it and send it off? Sure. But a live performance is so much better, and is probably what they want to be doing, anyway. They put themselves out there night after night, hoping people enjoy what they created, and having to look into the faces of the people who didn’t. And then play another one. Night after night.
It’s incredible. It’s difficult. It’s inspiring.
So, thanks, Nashville. Every musician in that town has moved me, and I’ll keep writing and keep putting myself out there. If you can, I can too.